Berlin — Bigger, Brighter, Busier, And Better Than Ever

Berlin today has a “everything-is-possible” attitude. Even better for you, it’s an affordable place to visit, and the Berlin buzz has reached so many ears than in 2008 Berlin actually drew more tourists than Rome! (Did you know?)

My Berlin is a larger city than Paris, a more liberated city than Amsterdam, a more culturally diverse city than London, and like New York, a city that never sleeps. Berlin has Europe’s largest train station, the new Hauptbahnhof a.k.a. Lehrter Bahnhof, so if you ever wanted to leave Berlin (don’t count on it!), you could travel to any destination on the continent!

You may notice during your visit that Berliners sometimes act like a newly blended family experiencing growing pains, but that’s exactly what makes this city one of the most exciting of the 21st century. Seeing Berlin will be simpler if you divide your itinerary into three or four sections...

In Eastern Berlin (which I would currently call the “happening” part of the city), the Unter der Linden Boulevard travels east from the Brandenburg Gate through what used to be East Berlin, toward the Alexanderplatz and the Fernsehturm TV Tower. In this area, you’ll find the German History Museum and Museum Island, with the Berlin Cathedral, Egyptian Museum, and Pergamon Museum.

South of the Boulevard are the best places to get a taste of life during the Wall years at Checkpoint Charlie and the East Side Gallery. North of the Boulevard are the Jewish Quarter and the hopping nightlife of the Prenzlauer Berg.

Western Berlin may not be “happening” quite as much as its Eastern counterpart, but I promise that it’s still got plenty of dazzle along the Ku’damm (Kurfurstendamm Boulevard) with enough big-name shops and designer hotels to keep tourists trade humming. If you take the train to the Bahnhof Zoo at the Tiergarten, you’ll end up at the Zoo Station in Western Berlin.

The Tiergarten itself is the major draw of Central Berlin. Climbing the 285 steps of the Tiergarten’s Victory Column (Siegessäule) isn’t for everyone, but I don’t know of another way to get a face-to-face look at the bronze statue of Victory at its top. Feel free to join the locals in calling her “the chick on a stick!” Also take in the mind-blowing view of the city!

If the Tiergarten makes New York’s Central Park envious, then Times Square must be green at the thought of Potsdamer Platz to the Tiergarten’s south! Turned into a dead zone by the Berlin Wall, it has been reincarnated as an immense commercial, transportation, and residential center. Surprisingly, Sony has created a traditional beer hall here at which folks sometimes grab some “authentic” German food. Central Berlin also has the Kulturforum, with the Musical Instruments Museum, Philharmonic Concert Hall, and New National Gallery, and one of my favorites, the Galeries Lafayette with its amazing basement Food Circus on Friedrichstraße.

To Central Berlin’s west is the Baroque Charlottenburg Palace, the largest palace in Berlin (it took more than a century to build!). Right next door is the Kleine Orangerie. You may like to stop here for a snack when you visit the Palace grounds and before heading for the surrounding museums. If you, like I am, are into modern art, they’ll keep you happy with their Art Nouveau, surrealist, and Picasso displays!

I guarantee that whether you look up, down, or in any other direction, Berlin will be waiting with something new—and if you aren’t quick enough to enjoy it, it might be replaced by something even newer!

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